clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Former Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie’s New Book Has A Surprising Subject

We’ll be very curious to see how this is received

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 20 Women’s Duke at Florida State
TALLAHASSEE, FL - JANUARY 20: Joanne McCallie women’s head coach Duke University Blue Devils laughs on the sideline during the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) match-up against the Florida State (FSU) Seminoles, Sunday, January 20, 2019, at Donald Tucker Center in Tallahassee, Florida.
Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Former Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie resigned last spring, you’ll remember, after not getting a hoped-for extension.

Well she’s been busy working on a book called Secret Warrior and its subject may surprise you: her long-running battle with mental illness.

Turns out that as a young woman, McCallie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which leads to several questions.

The first is simple: given her role, if she kept this to herself, was it appropriate? It’s not as if she worked in a vacuum. We haven't read the book (it’s actually not out yet), but it’s possible that she may have deceived her employers, her players and fans of her teams, at least to some extent.

We don't expect, for instance, that she disclosed her condition when she interviewed for coaching jobs, and who can blame her? The chances of someone hiring here would have gone way down and if anyone had, fair or not, it would have been with reservations and conditions.

We also expect that when she visited recruits, she didn’t open the conversations with parents by saying “by the way, I have been diagnosed with a mental illness.” Same principle applies: it would have been career suicide.

Once she decided to pursue coaching perhaps despite her diagnosis, she likely had no choice but to conceal it. Anyone, we think, would understand that that, if she did that, he had little choice if she wanted to coach. It would be an awful decision.

On the other hand though there’s this: if she did, she built her career on a falsehood. That’s indisputable. You can agree with her decision or not, but there’s no way around that. If she concealed her condition, she was dishonest about something very important and something that may have affected other people negatively.

That said, there’s also this.

Somewhat like autism, there’s a bit of a spectrum. At its most severe, Bipolar I, it would be impossible for her to coach and administer a team. Bipolar I is disabling.

Bipolar II is less severe. The National Institute of Mental Health defines it this way: “[Bipolar II is] defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I Disorder.”

Then there is a third category called Cyclothymic Disorder. Again, the NIMH definition: “[it’s]defined by periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.”

We would also assume there are other factors, including diet, environment, genetics and for all we know radio waves and corn oil. Who can possibly know all the factors, much less all the variables of one’s genetics, chemistry and environment? There’s just no way to begin to know, at least not according to what science tells us today.

All we can do is to ask whether she made good choices and that will largely come down to opinion.

One can argue for honor. Another might argue for pragmatism. The most important argument though would from her players. We don’t know if they were aware of her condition but basketball may be the most intimate team sport. There are only a small number of players on a team and there are no helmets or heavy equipment to hide behind. In baseball, you spread far apart. In basketball, you are confined in a small area and emotions are mostly understood as quickly as they're expressed.

We’re sure they were keenly aware of her emotions, just as she was keenly aware of theirs.

But it’s not exactly the same thing, particularly if she kept her diagnosis from them. Was that fair? Was it right?

We aren’t in a position to say and even to ask the question is uncomfortable. We certainly don't wish her ill or have any anger towards her whatsoever. She has always seemed like a very decent and earnest woman.

Whatever you think of how she handled this, McCallie is clearly passionate about the game and gave Duke her best efforts. We’re sure it feels much better not to have to hide her condition and we wish her nothing but the best going forward.

Her book comes out on February 16th for those who would like to read it.